Most people have never heard of Colmar, a tiny French Alsace town near the German border. Charlemagne knew it as a Saxon settlement, and it existed as one of the many little spaces connecting the Holy Roman Empire. Not all of its residents were Christians.
Colmar’s “street of the Jews” once housed a synagogue, a school, a mikveh, and a thriving community, Jews living side by side peacefully with their Christian neighbors in a tumultuous Medieval landscape.
That is, until the Black Death. Jews received the blame for the plague in 1348-49, and, despite protestations from the Holy Roman Emperor and Pope, their neighbors turned against them.
They were burned alive by Colmar’s residents.
What thoughts went through their 14th century Medieval minds when they buried their treasure- a treasure no one found until 1863? And can we learn from this episode in human history? I’ve stopped asking “what can we learn” because I feel that few can see the patterns anymore.
Maps of Colmar come later, including a stunning bird’s eye view of its homes, businesses and street life from the 1540s. In the 1540s, there was no sign of Jewish life in Colmar. The synagogue is gone. The school is gone. No one remembered the Jews.
This photo is of a wedding ring from the Cloister’s current exhibit on the Colmar Treasure. Its letters represent Mazel Tov, and it depicts the Temple, which had been destroyed by Romans centuries earlier. It belonged to a human being, who most probably planned to hand it down through the generations.
Studying history through its objects offers a deep perspective. What objects remain to tell the story?